Employers in Minnesota should be aware of a key difference between federal and Minnesota employment law. In McBee v. Team Industries, Inc., the Minnesota Supreme Court held that, unlike the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) does not require employers to engage in an interactive process before deciding whether to accommodate an employee who claims to have a disability.
The interactive process is a duty that the ADA places on employers and employees alike. In order to discharge this duty, both employer and employee must engage in a good faith back-and-forth in order to determine whether there is a reasonable accommodation that the employer can grant a disabled employee to allow that employee to keep working.
In McBee, the Minnesota Supreme Court held that no such obligation extended to employers under the MHRA. The plaintiff in McBee worked as a machine operator in the defendant’s plant. This job required the plaintiff to regularly move and lift objects that weighed thirty-pounds or more. After sustaining an injury to her spine, the plaintiff’s doctor placed a ten-pound lifting restriction on the plaintiff. The day after informing the defendant of this restriction, the plaintiff met with human resources to discuss possible accommodations and—when none were found—the plaintiff was terminated. The plaintiff brought suit and, on appeal before the Minnesota Supreme Court, she argued that the MHRA required employers to engage in an interactive process and that the defendant failed to meet that requirement. The Minnesota Supreme Court rejected this argument, noting that the MHRA had no such requirement and was not similar enough to the ADA for an analogy between the two laws to be relevant.
The scope of the MHRA and the ADA are similar—but not coextensive—and this decision is particularly significant for employers covered only by the state law. The McBee decision does not impact the duties of employers under federal law, which still requires an interactive process. That being said, while the two statutes have a similar scope, their coverage is not coextensive. For example, the ADA only applies to employers with fifteen employees or more, whereas the MHRA extends to all employers. For those employers covered only by the state law, the McBee decision represents a wholesale change in their duties, not just their potential liabilities.